Jewish Journal

Local Iranian Jews keeping social issues off the record

by Karmel Melamed

August 20, 2007 | 1:46 pm

On a weekly basis I am approached by nearly a dozen Los Angeles area Iranian Jews who read my articles regularly and feel the undying urge to kvetch to me about the topics concerning the community that I cover as a journalist. They ask “why do you always focus on politics or Iran?” Or “why do you write about Iranians in general as opposed to real social issues we’re facing as a community?” To these and other similar questions I simply respond with my own question; “do you have a story you’d like to share with me on the record?” Ninety-nine percent of the time their answers begins with “this is off the record but…” Well without naming names I’d like to take certain topics that are taboo to discuss in the community and place them in the lime light.

I can understand that most Iranian Jews for political reasons may be frightened sometimes to go on the record because of witnessing or hearing about physical violence that befell anyone that voiced their opinions to the media in Iran. I am also sensitive to the cultural norms of Iranian Jews who in Iran never publicly discussed problems they had in their families because there was a stigma attached with airing your laundry in public. For these reasons and for others, to some extend my hands are tied as a journalist when covering the local Iranian Jewish community. When folks in the community do not have the desire or courage to engage in a serious public dialogue about important topics that their friends and family members are facing everyday, how can I as a journalist report about them?

Even though Iranian Jews have been living in the U.S. now for nearly 30 years, community members still fear being ostracized or looked down upon by others for admitting that their family member have been grappling with serious personal issues. Some of these issues involve drug abuse, spousal abuse, religious inter-marriage, gambling, shady business dealings, embezzlement, alcoholism, divorce, sexual behavior for young men and women, and excessive spending on parties. I must emphasize that NOT all Iranian Jews in Southern California have these problems and these problems are NOT common place in our community…however they do exist. In the last few years I can recall only a couple of gatherings at the Nessah Center in Beverly Hills and at the Eretz-SIAMAK Center in Tarzana where Iranian Jewish community leaders were honestly discussing these social problems and solutions for them. In order for any community to successfully overcome difficulties, it must first acknowledge their existence and then engage an open dialogue about them.

I am not one to dwell on the negatives of the Iranian Jewish community nor do I want to show the community in a bad light. My hope is that the community’s leaders and members will make a greater effort to tackle the obstacles we are facing while living in the U.S. Sweeping these issues under the rug and staying quiet about them will not eliminate them. I urge those who wish to seriously engage in this needed dialogue to go on the record for a change with their problems and solutions because that is the only way progress and growth can be achieved in the community.

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Karmel Melamed is an internationally-published freelance journalist based in Southern California.

Since 2000, Melamed has specialized in covering the growing influential...

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